MANILA, July 14, 2005 
(STAR) By Joaquin Henson - With its fate hanging in the balance because of a suspension from playing in Federation Internationale de Basketball (FIBA)-sanctioned tournaments, the Philippine national team leaves for Las Vegas this afternoon to test itself against tough foreign competition in five games at the six-day Global Hoops Summit.

Coach Chot Reyes leads an 18-man delegation that lists 13 players, assistant coaches Tim Cone, Binky Favis and Aboy Castro and trainer Dennis Aenlle.

The players are Mike Cortez, Jay-Jay Helterbrand, Ren-Ren Ritualo, James Yap, Tony de la Cruz, Kelly Williams, Rich Alvarez, Kerby Raymundo, Sonny Thoss, Don Allado, Billy Mamaril, Romel Adducul and Dondon Hontiveros.

Reyes said the trip to Las Vegas is not to prepare the team for the Jones Cup scheduled on July 23-31 in Taipei.

"We’re playing in the Global Hoops Summit because it’s part of our program to build up our national pool," explained Reyes. "We want to test our ability to play against tough foreign competition. This is also a critical step in our evaluation process just like the Jones Cup. We’ll also be doing a lot of scouting."

Reyes said six players in the Las Vegas lineup will likely suit up in the Jones Cup. He singled out Hontiveros, Ritualo, Adducul, Helterbrand, Raymundo and de la Cruz as candidates to join six others from San Miguel Beer, Talk ‘N’ Text and possibly, Red Bull’s Enrico Villanueva in Taipei.

The San Miguel and Talk ‘N’ Text players being considered to play in the Jones Cup are Willie Miller, Yancy de Ocampo, Jimmy Alapag, Asi Taulava, Nic Belasco, Dorian Peña and Danny Seigle.

Reyes said Hontiveros was not in the initial lineup for Las Vegas but the crack sharpshooter asked for the chance to play.

"Right after San Miguel won the championship last Sunday, I got a phone call from (San Miguel external relations manager) Mr. (Robert) Non," related Reyes. "He called for Dondon. Sabi raw ni Dondon, he’d like to join us in Las Vegas. That’s expected from Dondon. He loves to play. I call him a gym rat. He’s always in the gym, practicing, playing, shooting."

If the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Fiesta Conference Finals went to a Game 6 or 7, Hontiveros would’ve been scratched for Las Vegas. He leaves Saturday, the day after San Miguel’s victory celebration, and will miss the team’s first two games.

Reyes said playing in Las Vegas and the Jones Cup is no joke, particularly for the six who will suit up in both tournaments.

"That’s a schedule of 14 games in 18 days," said Reyes. "We arrive in Manila from Las Vegas early Saturday morning, take the noon flight to Taipei and play our first game against Qatar at 8:30 that night."

The first-ever Global Hoops Summit will be held at the Cox Pavilion on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus. The Philippines will play five games from July 16 to 21.

"Basketball has blossomed into an international game and we are proud to showcase some of the brightest international talent in Las Vegas this summer," said Summit executive director Warren LeGarie. "The Summit provides an excellent chance for fans of basketball in the US to witness international talent which they don’t have the opportunity to see on a regular basis."

National Basketball Association (NBA) rules will apply in the Summit except that the games will be played in 10-minute, not 12-minute, quarters.

Reyes said he thought of adding Ritualo to the Jones Cup squad because the zone defense will probably be used more than man-to-man in the tournament. Ritualo is known for his zone-breaking outside shots.

"In Las Vegas, we’ll play NBA rules, including the three-second defensive violation in the lane which is not used in the amateur game," said Reyes. "But we’ll be up against Asian and African players who are familiar with FIBA rules. It will be a good learning and bonding experience for us."

Neither the Summit nor the Jones Cup is sanctioned by FIBA, clearing the way for the Philippines to participate.

FIBA-sanctioned tournaments include the FIBA-Asia Championships, the Southeast Asian Games, the Asian Games, the Champions Cup, the World Championships and the Olympics.

"We’re still hoping to play in the Asian Championships in Doha this September but if not, we’ll look for other tournaments," said Reyes. "We now have a program in place for the national team. With our pool, we have players thinking one way, playing one system, so at any time, we can put together a team for whatever international tournament. We will always be a team, not a collection of all-stars hastily assembled weeks before a competition. From now on, our country will always be well-represented in any foreign tournament we play."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved